A beautiful, super-thin laptop that makes Fedora shine

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Fedora Linux distro on laptop

Anderson Silva, CC BY-SA 4.0

Back in March, I was in the market for a new laptop, and like many Linux-educated professionals I felt tempted to purchase one of the lighter Apple laptops on the market back then (including the recently-announced Macbook). To be completely honest, I even ordered one of them, and I was planning on installing Fedora on it (as I have on past Apple laptops).

The very day my new Apple computer arrived, ASUS tweeted an interesting image. The company claimed it had an ultrabook that was even thinner than the recently announced Macbook. That ultrabook was the ASUS Zenbook UX305.

The ASUS ad intrigued me, so I did a bit of reading on the new computer's technical specs and read some reviews online. The last piece of hardware I ordered from ASUS was one of those Eee PCs, which came with Linux pre-installed on it. Even though I am aware some people have had less-than-optimal customer service with ASUS in the past, I (so far) had never had an issue with the company.

The ASUS Zenbook UX305 is comparable to Apple’s new Macbook. The Macbook’s CPU and video are a bit better than the UX305, but probably not enough to justify the $600 price difference.

The specs

Before getting any further into this review, I want to make an important point about this ultrabook’s technical specifications. The UX305 comes with an Intel Core M processor, the same family of processors in the Apple Macbook. These processors are very quiet, energy efficient, and consume typically about 3.66 watts, while an Intel Core i5 4200U consumes about 12.19 watts.

So there really isn’t much point in trying to compare the UX305 with other laptops or ultrabooks that come with Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processors. The UX305 is a great ultrabook for writing documents, surfing the web, remotely connecting to other servers, and even programming. If you're doing things like video editing, gaming, and other CPU-intensive tasks, this ultrabook may not be for you.

That said, here are the specs of the UX305:

  • 13.3-Inch FHD (1920x1080) anti-glare matte display with an ultra-wide 170-degree viewing angle
  • Latest Intel Core M-5Y10 (turbo up to 2GHz) processor
  • Fanless design that is quiet, clean, and energy efficient
  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB Solid State Drive
  • 10-Hours Battery Life (vendor claim)
  • Dual-band 802.11AGN Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 3 USB 3.0 ports
  • HDMI port

One bonus of this laptop is its design. For years, people have been drawn to the look of Apple Macbooks because of their aluminum casings and slim design, and I can honestly say that the UX305 is beautiful in its aluminum body. It is also fanless (due to the Intel Core M processor), just like the Macbook.

Some people may find the resolution a bit too high, meaning the print on the screen will look very small, but you should be able to use Firefox’s layout.css.devPixelsPerPx configuration to adjust the print size and GNOME’s tweak tool to change font size and scaling factor.

ASUS Zenbook, showing thinness

Original image by Anderson Silva, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Linux question

Alright, enough about the hardware. Let’s discuss what most readers probably care about: How well does it run Linux?

I obviously didn't buy this computer to run Windows. I have absolutely no use for Windows, but I did keep a 50GB Windows partition on the UX305 for two reasons:

  1. To keep the BIOS updated, as I intend to keep this laptop for a long time.
  2. To root/unroot my Android phone, an activity that, for now at least, still requires a Windows machine to do.

A few months ago, I downloaded Fedora 21 (Fedora 22 hadn't been released yet) and copied the live image into my USB thumb drive.

Then something unexpected happened. The laptop's BIOS did not recognize the USB drive. The reason? Secure Boot. I was not able to make the computer recognize the flash drive—even after I disabled Secure Boot and enabled every legacy option on the BIOS. Nothing.

So I dug around the house for a USB optical drive, burned a Fedora 21 installation DVD, and boom! The computer's BIOS recognized the disk and installation began. I was able to install Fedora with Secure Boot and EFI switched on. No issues.

When Fedora 22 came out at the end of May, I copied its installation image into a new USB flash drive and tried to boot from it. I had no issues whatsoever. I am still not sure if my old USB thumb drive was just going bad when the UX305 failed to recognize it.

In any case, once I booted into Anaconda, I was still a bit worried GRUB was going to flake out on me, so I decided to reduce my Windows 8.1 partition instead of completely wiping it off. I left about 50GB for Windows, and kept the rest of the space for installing Fedora.

And the installation proceeded without any problems!

I am happy to report that everything (including sound, WiFi, resume/suspend, webcam, etc) worked out of the box on Fedora 21, with the exception of the function keys for brightness, which probably just needs to be mapped properly in GNOME 3 (the brightness slider in the upper right corner in the GNOME toolbar works just fine).

ASUS Zenbook running Fedora for Linux

Original image by Anderson Silva, CC BY-SA 4.0

Battery life and other considerations

I have been using this laptop now for a bit more than four months. I've used FedUp to upgrade from Fedora 21 to Fedora 22, and yet again I had another successful upgrade. The laptop is powerful enough to run virt-manager, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 on a virtual machine. It works really well. The keyboard and touchpad work really well too. I have no complaints.

The battery life is pretty decent as well. I want to say I have tested at least five hours of "work" usage on the UX305 (while it's running on battery power), and I still had at least another 60 minutes or so left in the end. When I work from home, I tend to work with the computer plugged into an outlet, so my data here is more like an educated guess. I have used tuned and powertop to tune the power settings on my laptop, which I am certain has helped quite a bit.

I've upgraded the Windows 8.1 partition to Windows 10, and the UX305 is still performing well there as well.

I almost forgot to mention that the UX305 does come with a USB Ethernet adapter, which works fine on Fedora 21 and 22.

The UX305 is well-designed affordable ultrabook that can compete with the new Apple Macbook—but due to its price difference very well beats it. It is truly the first non-Apple laptop that has caught my attention on looks alone. Once I saw what was under the hood—and how well Fedora runs on it—I was completely sold.

Note: An earlier version of this post, which includes more pictures, appeared on the author's blog.

He was introduced to Linux by his uncle back in 1996. In the early 2000s Anderson transitioned from being a developer to a system administrator/release engineer. He joined Red Hat as an IT Release Engineer in 2007.

18 Comments

Great article! I wish all laptops came with a "How fast does Linux fly" review and rating. Like you, I rarely run Windows at home, and it's only for those 'only if I have to' sort of things. Impressive battery life. I guess the only feature that I would enjoy seeing added to this Ultrabook is an SD-Card reader. I have had fun creating bootable sd-card versions Peppermint Linux(amongst others) with surpringly quick performance. It still looks like a great system!

You don't need Windows to root an Android phone, the Android tools are all Linux Native, if that's the reason you are keeping the WIndows partition then you are wasting disk space. I've been rooting my phones from Fedora since 2011 when I got a Galaxy Nexus (currently have a Nexus 5).

If you want to run Windows programs then you should just convert your WIndows installation into a KVM VM (I have a Win8.1 and a Win10 VM running on KVM). The way you convert the Windows partition is by building a restoration image then installing it on a virtual disk instead of a real disk. I don't know about the BIOS, that's vendor specific. Most BIOSes that I've encountered allow you to do it from within the BIOS, either via a USB FLASH stick or directly from the Internet. The one exception that I've found is MSI motherboards which can only do it via Windows (they are on my do not buy ever again list). ASUS motherboards can do it from within the BIOS so I'm surprised that this laptop can't, If I were you I'd poke around the BIOS to see if there is a way to do an upgrade without WIndows.

I'm sure the OS is splendid, but how reliable is the hardware? My experience with ASUS hardware is that it's somewhat funky and doesn't last long. I still have working IBM laptops from the days of O/X2 and Windows 3.1. How long will an ASUS laptop actually last?

Glad to hear it works so well! We should promote those companies that play nicely with Linux and try helping the ones that do not.

I'm a little surprised that someone who would make a statement like "I have absolutely no use for Windows..." would then upgrade their Windows partition to Windows 10 given the huge security and privacy issues that release of Windows is burdened with. Microsoft's attitude toward it's users with Windows 10 are the most aggressive and draconian of any Windows release yet. Their EULA alone typifies everything that normally drives people to using Linux in the first place.
Take this section of the Windows 10 EULA.
“We will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary”

Every hardcore Linux user I know that still has a need to run Windows, myself included, is sticking with Windows 7.

And yes, other are right in pointing out that AFAIK, there are no Android devices that _require_ Windows to root.

Other than these points, this was a good review. Thanks.

> [...] as I intend to keep this laptop for a long time.

Cool. What do you intend to do about the battery in two years or so when it stops holding a charge?

how is the laptop holding up for you? I've notice frequent wifi issues with mine, as well as a problem, maybe because I use it in Asian countries, but the grounding seems to be on the body of the laptop, so I get a shock if I'm touching the floor or something metal.
As far as linux goes, it runs pretty well, but the touch pad is quite sensitive, and the power button is right next to the delete key, making for easy accidental shutdowns

This looks great and I'm guessing the thinner these models become the less we have to worry about heating up issues.
- http://www.ilapdesk.com/reviews/songmics-bamboo-foldable-laptop-desk-review/

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